ART: Movies and Paintings

Matthews art sculpture if thought to be the first medium used for the subject of a movie. The earliest films, know as moving pictures, were more like art that moved than the familiar plot-based movies of today. Movies of Niagara Falls, the ocean, a horse, a body builder, and other popular subjects of paintings became subjects for early films. The Great Train Robbery was the fist movie to tell a story.

Nancy Mowll Mathews spent 10 years collecting examples that illustrate just how painters and sculptors influenced early filmmakers and vice versa. The exhibit she created, Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1890-1910, exhibited at Williams College Museum of Art and traveling exhibit sites in 2005-2007, shows the connection between art and early films.
The exhibition presents American realist painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries side-by-side with the earliest experiments in film. Approximately 100 works, including nearly 60 short films (a few minutes long) by Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and the Cinémathèque Française, along with works by American masters such as George Bellows, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan, provide a new context for looking at the artists’ choice and presentation of subject matter. For the first time, film is integrated into the history of American art. The exhibition was organized by the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. (Michael Famiglietti, Scripps Howard News Service - Sunday, March 25, 2007)


ALL MUSCLE: The strongman Sandow is seen from the film of the same name in 1894, produced by Edison Manufacturing.

strongman  Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

WASHINGTON -- Long, long before Paris Hilton dazzled audiences with her fry-cook skills on "The Simple Life," audiences paid a penny to watch bathing beauties in reality shows.
And like the famed heiress, the women of 1903's "Seashore Frolics" grabbed the attention of gawkers and photographers alike as they bounced around on the sand, creating a spectacle. In an Edison Manufacturing Co. production.

Nancy M. Mathews, a senior curator with Williams College, says the first film ever made for public viewing is the Edison Co.'s "Blacksmithing Scene". The one-minute film, made in 1893, shows three burly men banging an anvil and sharing what looks like a beer. Shimmering and shaking on early film stock. Mathews said the film isn't the simple project it appears to be. The work filmed at Edison's Black Maria studio, in New Jersey, could give any modern method acting a run for its money. "This is an elaborate setup for a film," Mathews said. "This has got to be real blacksmiths. It's not people using these tools for the first time."

A lithograph of moviegoers, "Edison's Greatest Marvel, the Vitascope," show's a comparison between traditional art and early filmmaking. In the print, the beautifully dressed audience of 1896 watches a film projected onto a screen that resembles a huge canvas enclosed in a gold frame. Their perfectly rendered faces appear blissfully ignorant of their historical significance.
The films "were shown in existing theaters, some in the Paris Opera House," Mathews added.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©